Almost half of our food system’s cumulative environmental impact comes from just five countries. In addition to this, many other revelations about food impacts are shared in the new study, which its authors say could help coordinate efforts to make global production more sustainable. It is said that there is
A common way to aggregate food impacts is to look at the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with, say, 1 liter of milk. But this single impact focus, which usually applies to different food groups, fails to capture the full catalog of the pressures that food has on the environment, such as habitat destruction and water use. It overlooks the fact that the impacts of global warming are not felt uniformly across the globe and vary geographically, especially when considering GHG emissions and other transboundary impacts.
new researcher natural sustainability This study hoped to counter these shortcomings with another way of estimating the pressure that the food system exerts on the planet. It covered 99% of food and was from 172 countries. They looked at her four environmental impacts associated with producing each food in each country. These are greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient pollution from fertilizer runoff, freshwater use, and habitat disturbance.
Importantly, they combined these four pressures to produce one geographically explicit estimate of the cumulative food production impact in each case.
In the first instance, this approach reveals that responsibility for global food impacts is highly skewed to specific parts of the planet. In fact, research shows that just five countries – India, China, the United States, Brazil and Pakistan – account for 43.8% of the cumulative impact of global food production.
Of these, terrestrial food production contributes to a greater cumulative pressure than aquatic food sources. Yet, despite providing only 1.1% of the world’s nutrition, food from the oceans causes a staggering 10% of the cumulative environmental pressure due to habitat disturbance effects. the researchers discovered.
On the other hand, analysis showed that almost all of this environmental pressure (about 92%) is acting on just 10% of the Earth’s surface, mainly in India, China, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia.
A more complete cumulative pressure measurement of different types of food revealed some surprising new high-impact candidates. Beef production is widely regarded as the worst for the planet because of the emissions associated with it, but pig farming actually has a larger cumulative environmental footprint when water use and pollution are taken into account. Similarly, certain fish pose greater environmental pressure than chicken.
Examining impacts at the national scale again skews the results, and in most countries (with the exception of countries such as Brazil), the greatest cumulative environmental pressure is rice and It was found to come from crops such as wheat. of nutrient contamination.
Digging further into country-to-country differences in food production impacts, the researchers also found that different production methods around the world can dramatically change the environmental footprint of similar foods. From country to country, the environmental pressures of the same type of food differed by up to 10 times, depending on where those foods were produced.
Soybeans are 2.4 times more efficient and less impactful when grown in the United States than when grown in India.
The researchers explain how this geographically-distinct comprehensive assessment of food production pressures brings new perspectives to the problem and creates new opportunities to tackle it.
For example, identifying the major ‘culprit’ countries behind most of the global food impact can help reveal where interventions could have the greatest global impact. Finding where food systems have the greatest global impact could guide mitigation and remediation efforts in those areas. And on a more local scale, comparing similar food footprints across countries could reveal where some countries’ farming practices could be improved to reduce impacts. researchers said.
“We need this comprehensive information to make more accurate decisions about what we eat.”
Halpern et al. al. “Environmental footprint of global food production.” natural sustainability2022.
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